The first several Federal United States Censuses did not collect information about Native Americans. Because most Native Americans lived on reservations or unsettled territory and were not taxed, their population was not enumerated.
From 1790 to 1840 they were not identified at all. However, the number of Native Americans counted in each census improved over time.
Native Americans in the 1850 -1890 Census Periods
In the census of 1850, data was collected about each person living in a household for the first time. Every person was listed, along with specific information such as “color.”
Although this means that Native Americans living in an enumerated household would be counted, the number who were living in such homes were few.
Beginning in 1870, Indians in the general population were identified by an “I” or “In.” Most of the records from the 1890 census were destroyed in a 1921 fire.
Special Indian Schedules (1900-1910)
Beginning with the census of 1900, Native Americans who were living on reservations were identified as well as those living in the general population Special forms titled “Indian Population” were used to collect additional information.
This information was added to the end of each census as a special Indian schedule.
The intermarriage of Native American and non-Native American citizens were tabulated based on were the family lived.
If an intermarried couple lived on a reservation or with the Native American family members, they were recorded in the special Indian schedule.
However, intermarried couples living off the reservation or with the non-Native American family were counted in the general population.
Enumeration of Native Americans from 1920-1940
Beginning in 1920, special Indian schedules were no longer used. All Native Americans were identified and counted with the general population, and their color or race was indicated in the proper column.
However, the 1930 census added columns to indicate tribe and degree of Indian blood.
Separate Native American Censuses
The special Indian schedules in the Federal Censuses of 1900 and 1910 should not be confused with the Indian Census Rolls of 1885-1940.
These were special censuses taken of particular Native American tribes, and most occurred in different years from the Federal Census. However, these special census records could be helpful in researching Native American ancestors.